5 questions for Dan Copeland

Dan Copeland sitting at his desk
Dan Copeland is retiring after 29 years with IDOC.

After 29 years with the Idaho Department of Correction, Dan Copeland is retiring as a program coordinator in the Division of Prisons. EDOC asked him five questions about his career and what his future might hold. 

EDOC: How did you come to join IDOC?

Copeland: In 1986 the economy was bad and you couldn’t buy a job. I had experience as a deputy sheriff, but I didn’t want to be a law enforcement officer again. I knew the PPO and PSI in town, and their jobs sounded interesting. I applied with the department and started as a PPO in Blackfoot in July 1986.

EDOC: How did the job change you?

Copeland: The job challenged me to think on a deeper level. Most of my caseload was under the jurisdiction of the same judge. That judge relied heavily on the PPOs’ recommendations. When a violation occurred, I felt responsible to consider carefully my recommendation and the best course of action for the offender and the community.

EDOC: How has IDOC changed during your tenure?

Copeland: When I started, the department had seven districts but fewer staff. I quickly knew every PPO, section supervisor, and district manager in the state. 

I was the only staff in Blackfoot. My caseload averaged 105 and stretched from Blackfoot to Challis. I had a car, an old Radio Shack answering machine that frequently ran out of space on the cassette tape, no radio (those came later), no computer (there was one at the district office), and a S&W revolver that I carried when I had permission to do so. PPOs got permission to carry their firearm on a case-by-case day-by-day basis. Because I was in a satellite office, my district manager gave me permission to carry based on individuals. I only asked to carry on a handful of offenders. Most of the time, my firearm was secured in my closet at home.

IDOC had four prisons ISCI, SICI, NICI, and ICIO. Shortly after SAWC opened, I promoted to deputy warden there. Inmates and staff had just moved into the facility. Because of a lawsuit, the inmates and staff had been in tents on the old Youth Services Center site. SAWC had 100 beds. 

However, the biggest change is the professionalism of the department. Things that were commonplace when I started would be unthinkable today. Let’s just leave it at that.  

EDOC: What advice do you have for your colleagues?

Take care of yourself and your family

An instructor at the old IDOC academy would tell new staff that he pictured a child’s red Flyer wagon just outside his office door. When he left work, he mentally put the worries, plans, and events of work in the little red wagon. They would be waiting there for him when he returned. In other words, don’t take the job home. That was good advice. 

I learned this early on, and it served me well for 29 years, get used to change, it’s the only thing that’s constant in this outfit.

EDOC: What will you be doing next?

I’ll travel more. I’m an avid motorcyclist. My wife is a teacher, so during the summer we’ll have more time to travel. 

I’ll go right back to writing, but fiction instead of SOPs. I’ll republish a novel this fall that was previously published under a pseudonym. Then I’ll start on a couple of unfinished projects.

Story published: 06/17/2015
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